This Congress is considered by pundits on both sides of the aisle as one of the worst and most ineffectual Congresses ever. They have not been able to pass a single piece of major legislation in years. So now they finally decide to act in a bipartisan manner and what do they accomplish? Overriding President Obama’s veto of a feel-good but ill-advised law allowing families of 9-11 victims to sue countries that “didn’t do enough to stop terrorism.” The bill is called
The Justice for State Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) — which for the first time would allow suits in American courts against state sponsors of terrorist attacks inside the US.
I know, it sounds great. Why shouldn’t victims families who suffered tremendous losses be allowed to sue the foreign nations that financed or supported or outright committed the attacks? Lots of reasons. But the most important reason is retaliation which puts our armed forces and our resources abroad at risk. The US has set up what is called “status of forces agreements” that ensure that when the US deploys troops, they’re not vulnerable to these kinds of private lawsuits. Other countries agree to do this because the US reciprocated with them. Now that the US has opened the door to these private lawsuits, all bets are off. That means we can be sued in a foreign country for alleged acts of terrorism or harm caused by the US abroad. And if you are thinking to yourself “But the US doesn’t commit terrorism so what do we have to worry about” Well the other nations may make their law more flexible and allow suits for any kind of violent act that causes harm. More likely is that it will be foreign courts that will decide what acts allow for compensation and one man’s “police action” or “freedom fighting initiative” or “support for our allies” is another man’s “war” or “terrorist attack.” Already several MidEast nations are expressing concern over the law and promising a reciprocal response.
This is political grandstanding at its worst. It’s pandering and its nonsensical. Of course, Trump henchman Rudy Giuliani proclaimed it a huge victory for 9-11 families and it passed the Senate 97-1 with Harry Reid voting to uphold the veto and Tim Kaine being absent but later stating he would have joined in voting to override. Hillary Clinton has stated that she supports the bill. Here is what the President had to say in defense of the veto:
Enacting JASTA into law … would neither protect Americans from terrorists attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks. Doing so would instead threaten to erode sovereign principles that protect the United States, including our U.S. Armed Forces and other officials, overseas.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said he would watch for possible “blowback” from the law to determine if Congress should rewrite portions of it in the near future. It may be too late by then Corker.(He voted for it besides his “misgivings”). He also wrote a letter to John Cornyn of Texas, the chief sponsor of the bill before the vote, asking Cornyn to consider the consequences of the law to US interests and the concept of sovereign immunity in general. Cornyn responded to him and the President by saying:
How can anyone look at the families in the eye and tell them that they shouldn’t have the opportunity to seek justice against a foreign government responsible for the death of their loved one? At the end of the day, this vote is about doing what’s right for the American people.”
No its not. Its about an upcoming election and a legislative body without the spine to make the hard call. And as to how we can look the families in the eye and tell them they can’t sue? That’s also easy. Explain the harm it can do to US interests abroad including the men and women we consistently put in harm’s way in countries that would love to sue us as terrorists and seize our assets abroad. Explain to them that the US will not be open to suit in countries all over the world. Tell them that the concept that sovereign nations cannot be sued in this fashion is as old as civilization itself practically. You might also remind them (as harsh as it may sound) that 9-11 families are the best compensated victims in the history of civil law. This country stepped up and did right by them. Huge amounts of money poured in from the private and public sector. Dozens and dozens of lawyers volunteered to manage the claims through a one-of-a-kind compensation system. So this is not a pool of people that did not receive compensation for their loss and who are in need of finding someway to get justice. So please don’t tell me, Congressmen, that you did this “for the families.” The money the families and victims received far-exceeded what they would have gotten in a traditional court of law. In fact, its a fair question to ask whether a US court would allow them to be “doubly-compensated” for the same loss. If I am harmed by five different people, and my losses are $10 Million I get $10 Million, I don’t get $50 Million.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see this kind of bi-partisanship to pass much needed legislation that would help countless Americans with no other remedy than help from the Federal government. Hundreds of good bills and ideas just sit and gather dust while this moribund Senate and this political buffoonery we call a House of Representatives filibuster and take endless vacations or simply just stall. For God’s sake they won’t even vote on the President’s nomination to the Supreme Court!
Yet, wave that flag, let them get a photo op with a 9-11 family, and they all show up regardless of historical precedent, treaties, agreements, and the real and frightening potential for retaliation.